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Microplastics in sewage supports drug-resistant bacteria

Date: 31 March 2021 Tags: Miscellaneous


A new study has discovered that microplastics present in sewage have become a hub for drug-resistant bacteria.



A large amount of study on microplastics has been focused on its effect on environment but its role in supporting drug resistant bacteria is new.



  • The microplastics allow formation of a thin layer of bio-film on its surface that allows anti-biotic waste and bacteria to join together.

  • The research also identified that drug-resistance in certain types of bacteria was up to 30 times when they attach to microplastics present in municipal wastewater and sewage treatment plants.

  • Various chemicals, pathogens and drug resistant bacteria converge in wastewater treatment plants and are supplemented by microplastics.

  • These microplastics act as carrier of these drug resistant varieties, causing risk to aquatic life and human health if they bypass the water treatment process.


The study

  • The scientists studied samples from three domestic wastewater treatment plants in New Jersey, U.S and added microplastics in form of polyethylene and polystyrene.

  • They later identified bacteria species that grow on the microplastics. They tracked genetic changes during the course of study.

  • They also discovered bacteria with three varieties of genes, sul1, sul2 and intI1 that are known to aid resistance to common antibiotics, sulphonamides.

  • They were found to be up to 30 times greater on the microplastic biofilms than the control medium in the lab.

  • Adding the antibiotic sulphonamides increased the antibiotic resistance genes by up to 4.5-fold.

  • The bacteria attached to microplastics secrete glue like substance to keep their position and can also swap DNA with each other during their life.



  • Scientists identified two emerging human respiratory disease causing pathogens in the sample studied.

  • The study will help in devising new techniques to prevent the drug resistant bacteria from bypassing water treatment system.


Drug resistance

  • Drug resistance is a condition in which common treatment medicines become ineffective in treating a particular variety of pathogen.

  • The pathogens will have a modification in its genetic information that will allow it to tackle drugs that can control its growth.

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